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'Polanski's version of Macbeth is a remarkably pessimistic view of the world, antithetical in almost all respects to Shakespeare's.' (Adapted from E. Pearlman, Macbeth on Film: Politics, Reader, p. 145). Discuss.

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Introduction

AA 306 - TMA 03 'Polanski's version of Macbeth is a remarkably pessimistic view of the world, antithetical in almost all respects to Shakespeare's.' (Adapted from E. Pearlman, Macbeth on Film: Politics, Reader, p. 145). Discuss. Prior to discussing its validity, Pearlman's assertion requires some clarification. It is understood to suggest that through the depiction of tenth or eleventh century Scotland, Shakespeare's Macbeth, and Polanski's cinematic version of it, present particular views of the political world.1 The issues, which the play and the film raise, are generic, in that they can apply beyond the specific setting. Although Pearlman records Polanski's own observation that the scene in which Macduff's castle is invaded draws on his own life experiences,2 his assertion does not suggest that the play and film represent the comprehensive worldviews of Shakespeare and Polanski respectively. This would require close interpretation within the context of their bodies of work, absent from Polanski's essay. Pearlman argues that Shakespeare's view of the political world expressed in Macbeth is characterised by optimism, while criticising Polanski for his pessimism. This view is largely, though not wholly sustained, the locus of disagreement being that Shakespeare's play does also incorporate elements of pessimism. ...read more.

Middle

An instance, where evidence of this emerges, is the scene in which Malcolm is named 'Prince of Cumberland' (1.4.39). Regan has noted how this act recognises that succession in Scotland was not automatically hereditary.7 Shakespeare acknowledges the potential for the absence of a formal system for the transfer of power to be a destabilising factor, in the response of Macbeth to the naming. Having considered that 'chance may crown me / Without my stir,' (1.3.143-4) the naming of Malcolm becomes 'a step/On which I must fall down or else o'erleap' (1.4.48-9), blocking a natural succession by Macbeth and compelling him to act on his 'black and deep desires' (1.4.51). Polanski's expands the scope of scene to suggest that it not only Macbeth's ambition, which is thwarted by Duncan, the camera briefly shifting to Donalbain, his face half-buried in shadow, bearing a grim expression, suggestive of potential rivalry for the succession between the two brothers. Banquo's response to Malcolm's naming is to unenthusiastically mumble 'Hail, Prince of Cumberland', his eyes raised to the roof. Polanski's overall characterisation of Banquo arguably draws more upon the source material for Macbeth than does the play itself. ...read more.

Conclusion

The final, closing shot of Donalbain approaching the witches also fatally undermines Shakespeare's optimistic conclusion, reintroducing the witches as the representation of Donalbain's own ambitions. The discordant music, tempestuous weather and bleak landscape replicate that which accompanies Macbeth's first approach to the witches and reinforces the beginning of a new cycle of disorder. Pearlman argues that 'Shakespeare's cycle is from one legitimate king to the next.' While this argument can be sustained, as the play moves from the reign of Duncan, through Macbeth, to Malcolm, a more appropriate interpretation is perhaps that Shakespeare's play follows a linear trajectory from disorder to order, from the 'hurly-burly' of the opening scene to the 'grace of grace' which marks the close of the play. While elements of pessimism do appear in Shakespeare's Macbeth, the view expressed through the play is predominantly optimistic in that order is restored and individuals learn from experience. In contrast, Polanski's film does suggest a cyclical pattern, disorder interspersed with periods of order. Polanski's pessimism lies in the suggestions that ambition, and disloyalty, are prevalent in Scottish political society; that men fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors; and that the combination of these two factors with the inherent weaknesses of Scottish political society remove the hope of a stable political future. ...read more.

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